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Policy suggestion: Parliament

This is a barebones, incomplete idea - a stub article, as it were, please expand on it with your own thoughts.

The Houses of Parliament meet in a crumbling, grand complex of palaces and religious symbolism, topped off with an iconic clock tower. Will this always be the way it is? The buildings in question are unsuitable for the sheer numbers trying to use them these days, and rather than taking the Conservative approach of reducing the number of MPs in spite of the increased population, we need to look at doing something else entirely.
What makes a Capital City so important? Why is London (or Westminster) the place where all the decisions are made? Does it not seem odd that a dank, marshy estuarine corner of these isles has been the centre of political gravity within them for the last two thousand years, more or less? Setting aside the fact that eight million or so people occupy the sprawl of the 'Greater' London area as being mainly a symptom after the fact, ought we not consider that we now live in a much more connected society? If we want true democracy, ought we not allow the decisions to be made in the places they affect the most? BBC's 'Question Time' is capable of bringing the debate to the people both physically and on the TV, and utilises Twitter to at least superficially involve the viewers. Whilst this does not go far enough, it is at least a step in the right direction. London was a city that grew largely by the arrival of trade by sea. Most of the docks there are long since shut now, and those that remain are largely for tourism or as the backyard ponds to the towers of the oligarchy. We have all moved on now, and sail different seas; trade comes in packets of data and physical location doesn't have quite the importance it used to for the ability to run the show.
I propose a policy that the Houses of Parliament are taken out of their current use altogether, but unlike Dawud Islam's suggestion that they should be replaced by some new structure in 'some central location', instead why can't we see parliament come to us? Granted, some towns lack the facilities for such large gatherings - so they'll finally get the investment in multi-use (and of course eco-friendly by design) larger exhibition, conference and community events spaces. But even if we just started by circulating around the ten biggest cities, it would be an improvement over the current London-centric parliamentary paradigm, which seems largely to be a by-product of the presence of the monarchy. You might also start to persuade the Scottish (and a lot of the rest of us) that the UK parliament isn't just concerned with Southern England's welfare. It would lead to more people from the 'provinces' getting interested in national level politics without having to travel to London all of the time and make a career out of it by getting a degree.
To make our political system truly participatory, we do of course need electoral reform too, and we need democracy via the internet to be the new normal. Referenda should be routinely available for voting online. We live in a country of 65 million people, and I bet near enough all of them have something to say at some point. So we need to break free of this entirely artificial notion that London is somehow a 'special case'.
We also need to break free of the notion that we can arbitrarily appoint a whole chamber of our parliament from people claimed to be 'special cases' based purely on them either being people who have scratched the right backs or are descendants of those who did. The House of Lords needs to be scrapped in its current form, and in its place I reckon we should put the House of Sortition, picked at random from the populace with very minimal requirements of eligibility. The Houses of Commons and Sortition could tour the country independently of one another, so that important political things are always going on in at least two parts of the country at once.


  • I'm not going to argue against this, but just to note: the European parliament currently travels between Brussels and Strasbourg, while having its administrative offices in Luxembourg. This arrangement was created for political reasons (though not the same ones you're advocating) but it's seen as an expensive and time-consuming waste of money by most MEPs and their staffs. Consequently, there's a strong movement for reorganising the parliament in a single seat in Brussels. Of course, cost isn't the only (or even main) consideration in creating a truly representative and participatory democracy but it's something to bear in mind.

    Also, it's a pain in the arse when you leave your charger in Strasbourg.
  • Valid point indeed, and I can imagine similar concerns may be raised about, say, holding parliament in Belfast one day and a day or so after, PMQs in Norwich. I don't even think this will entirely solve the attendance problem, but rather it will round out the attendance problem, such that all the MPs should at least have no excuse but to attend at least /some/ of the time.
  • You say that, but part of the point of the whole "second homes" thing for MPs is to give MPs a reliable place to stay near the capital, where Parliament is, which is supposed to deal with the attendance problem.

    There's also the consideration that sometimes the House of Commons isn't empty because no-one cares, it's because the MPs are attending to other business elsewhere, such as taking surgeries in their constituency, or if they need to be around for a vote they might be sitting on a committee panel, or on a panel at a public access event like one of PICTFOR's talks or something like that.

    Those are the better MPs though, I can't speak for the behaviour of all MPs. I'd rather have stronger powers of recall to deal with negligent MPs instead.
  • Yes, we should have stronger powers of recall too. That along with a Sortition replacement for the Lords would be a great start. Mobile parliament may be trickier to implement in some ways, so maybe that should be the lower priority of these suggestions.
  • Dear DanFox, I love the way you write, its quality of the highest, though you've invented a new word 'Sortition', it seems? I'm guessing that you're in your early 20's and full of ideas, nothing wrong with that. Great idea about a roving Parliament, though totally impractical as mentioned about the EU 'circus' moves. Parliament Buildings are in a bit of a state [I've been inside a few times, and as a buildings engineer, can see all that's wrong] and they'll move out to get it refurbished. Yes, that would be a good time to rove it around the nation for a bit [the SDP did similar things with their Launch Trains and mobile conferences 30 years ago], so could be possible on a smaller scale.
    Your history bit is spot on, though you'd fail to mention that The Romans first crossed the River Thames [between St.Thomas' Hospital and Westminster] in AD43 and that the present Abbey stands on a raised site [above sea level], hence monks occupying it since the 960's AD, thus making the nearby land suitable for a Great [Norman] Hall, built in 1097AD. This Hall became our first Parliament in 1265AD with Simon de Montfort's gathering of Barons, and the present Palace dates from 1834, after the original burnt down [thousands turned out to see it burn, hence Parliament Hill Fields, where I grew up!]. So, the Mother of Parliaments sits where it does for very good reasons, in its own City of Westminister.
    Down River [in my beloved Pool of London], we can also thank The Romans [what did The Romans ever do for us?] for introducing commerce within walls in another City, of London. And hence the two Cities and present Parliamentary Constituency of 'Cities of London and Westminister'. But do you know where the two meet, why, and what's its significance in today's Public Sector pay packets..? Sorry to labour on, I just love my history and I do hope that we all meet in person one day rather than just on here.
  • Sortition is from a Latin word dating back to an Athenian democracy practice, so hardly a new word.

    I'm curious about how you'd actually go about implementing that system though
  • Thank you topperfalkon. 'Sortition', though, doesn't appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but a good descriptive word nonetheless! And, implementing which system? I'm merely summarising our Parliamentary history, it's DanFoxDavies that wishes for fundamental change methinks?
  • edited March 2016
    Sortition is a process similar to the selection of a jury. It is the random selection of representatives from all walks of life. The Athenians defined the bounds of those they would select from as 'all free men' - which of course said nothing of how normal slavery and sexism were in their time. But juries are selected from all free people of voting age, if I am not mistaken, and so too would a house of sortition. I found out about Sortition in its modern form here: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/ and whilst I do not think it would be wise to try and do away with party political elections and democracy in the short or medium term, we can sure enough replace the House of Lords with it!

    People meeting in an informal atmosphere, bashing away at the nation's problems over cups of tea like it's a cross between a community centre coffee morning, a bug jam and serious legislative progress.

    As for my views on the history of London, see my other policy suggestion on abolishing the City of London (corporation & trappings thereof). The videos inserted there taught me most of my meagre London history knowledge, and since I am not from London I doubt I'd have been expected to have learned more of it when I only did history to GCSE and most of that was focussed on history of the local area I lived in, in Yorkshire.

    EDIT: I know a fair few other bits of London's history from encyclopedias, Wikipedia, TV documentaries, and of course WW2 history of the Blitz. But I won't know it to the same depth as someone living there.
  • Dear Dan,
    Thank you, I'm much better informed now thanks to your input! What better way to improve on Democracy than to reinvent a process from the very people that gave it to us?! As regards London, it is much more than a country's capital, two cities [London and Westminster], 8M people, a large river, 30+ bridges and tunnels, 2000 square miles within the M25...it is a quite a phenomenon, so not an easy option to move Government and Finances..!
  • Dear Dan,
    And, of course, the H o L's acts still as a 'ConDem' blocking device, it being full of 'new' libdem Lords especially created to carry on the 'Clegg' effect..! And so to sortition.
  • Yes, the randomly selected folk of Sortition would still have the sense-checking function of the Lords, but from a much fairer representative selection.
    And Brazil managed to move its capital city status to a brand new purpose built capital a few decades back. Australia's capital is hardly its biggest or most phenomenal city. Government does not have to sit where all the financial action is. New York is not the capital of the USA either.
  • It's not really that simple though, because it's not just Parliament in London, it's all of Whitehall, the COBR, Portcullis House, etc...

    If you move Parliament away from London you'd by necessity move the rest of central government too. Many of these buildings how purpose-built additions or customisations and therefore would need similar type buildings wherever they got moved to.

    It may have worked for Brazil, not sure it'd work for us.

    Besides, our entire transport infrastructure is geared around getting things to London, that'll be much harder to change.
  • Harder to change, maybe - but perhaps it would be a change for the better to bring our parliament out of its paranoid shell a bit and to give infrastructure which is not centred on London more of a chance in this country. Centralisation is not necessarily wise.
  • The transport point is quite valid. For example, as far as Swansea gets a direct line to London - you try to travel North from South Wales and you're going to have a bad time.

    I do think a gradual move of some of the arms of Government would be very possible however. We've done it with HMRC and other departments - and with a better Internet infrastructure in the UK remote working can provide a lot of solutions to the transport problem.
  • I'm still not sure there's any particular benefit from moving Parliament out of Westminster.

    Though, if they don't hurry up and fix the Palace, they might not get that choice anyway. :disappointed:
  • Just a small point regarding one of your earlier posts, topperfalkon: MPs attending to business in their home constituencies will have the chance, when parliament is meeting nearer to them, to do both constituency and parliamentary duties in the same day rather than spend hours on the train.

    To ensure there is no gerrymandering of when and about what issues parliament is given the chance to meet in particular locations (it would give an obvious bias if, say, immigration was always the topic discussed in Boston, Lincolnshire and barely ever mentioned elsewhere), there needs to be some sort of random or independent selection procedure for the next location, taking into account reasonably equal time-gaps between visits to certain places.
  • That doesn't really solve the logistics problem I mentioned earlier.

    Firstly, I'm fairly sure there's a higher concentration of constituencies in the South East, where the bulk of the country's population is. So in order to satisfy the making constituency work easier, all Parliament sessions would still gravitate around London, which negates the benefit of moving out of Westminster.

    Secondly, it's generally a lot easier to get from London to anywhere else than from anywhere else, because our transport network is heavily London-centric.
  • The fact that our transport is currently heavily London-centric is not justification in itself; as I pointed out this and the higher population density in the London area are symptoms of the problem this idea seeks to be part of addressing. The higher concentration of constituencies in the South East is not entirely fairly created; many of these constituencies have been tweaked by those who seek to gerrymander voting blocs in politically aligned areas to ensure success under First Past The Post for their parties.

    However, were the Lords to be replaced with Sortition and the Commons to be elected under a proportional representation system, the advantages of such gerrymandering would fall away and the definitions and boundaries of constituencies could be more fairly reviewed with a distributed parliamentary network of meetings in mind. The internet could further assist in increasing the time spent by local MPs in their local areas versus travelling, the numbers of MPs participating remotely in discussions as opposed to not at all, and transparency to all of the processes of parliament and government. In such a scenario, the distribution of the transport network is less of an issue anyway, and the development of alternative non-London-focussed major routes is encouraged more.
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